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Five players who would benefit from a change of scenery in Super Rugby

By Ned Lester
AJ Lam scores the Blues try. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens’ shift south from the Blues to the Highlanders has seen the 23-year-old go from struggling for minutes to one of Super Rugby’s premier running threats and a potential All Black.

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It was a career-altering decision that has undeniably paid off for the fullback, and it begs the question, who else could benefit from a new opportunity in different colours?

There’s no shortage of talent coming through the ranks in New Zealand, and ideally, the five best players in the country at each position would be the ones donning the jerseys on offer.

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So, who is missing out? Who is stuck behind an All Black or premier talent that, with a change of scenery, could make a similar jump to the Highlanders’ newest star?

Here are five players who could do just that given the opportunity.

AJ Lam

Lam is an undeniable talent with the ability to play across the backline, having done so for the Blues since 2021. The 25-year-old has an All Blacks XV cap to his name and has consistently excelled when thrust into the starting unit in Super Rugby, whether it be in the midfield or outside backs.

At 1.92m and 105kg, Lam has plenty of size and power without compromising pace; much like his older brother, former Hurricanes and New Zealand Sevens star Ben Lam. 

With 60 Super Rugby points to his name heading into the 2024 season, Lam had recovered from an injury-troubled 2023 season and was again ready to slot in wherever called upon, and while he hasn’t escaped the injury cloud entirely this season, there’s no doubt that he’s looked right at home competing with the best of Super Rugby Pacific and could thrive with the chance to play consistent minutes and specialising in a particular position.

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Du’Plessis Kirifi 

Once an All Blacks squad member, Kirifi has been relegated to the Hurricanes bench in 2024 thanks to the form of All Black in-waiting Peter Lakai. 

As is the case for so many quality Kiwi talents, a short-term injury gave the man behind Kirifi a sniff at the starting job and the highly touted understudy ran away with the starting jersey, a jersey Kirifi had made his own over recent years and was expected to keep for some time.

The 21-year-old Lakai had entered the Super Rugby fray as a No. 8 that offered versatility, but with the explosive Brayden Iose also in the Wellington squad, new coach Clark Laidlaw made the call to slide Lakai onto the side of the scrum.

Adding to the equation next season will be the return of Ardie Savea. It remains to be seen where Savea will play for the All Blacks once the international season kicks off, but given the form of Blues star No. 8 Hoskins Sotutu, a return to the open side flank shouldn’t be ruled out for Savea, who has been playing in the No. 7 jersey in Japan. One would think All Blacks coach Scott Robertson would prefer to have his star playing club rugby in the same jersey as he will don internationally.

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Regardless of where the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year lands, the loose forward unit for the Hurricanes is looking mighty congested and although Laidlaw has recently opted for a 6-2 bench split in big games, you couldn’t blame Kirifi for seeking out a starting role elsewhere.

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Anton Segner

A man also suffering from the wealth of loose forward talent in New Zealand is German-born Anton Segner. 

The 22-year-old has the size and work rate of a great blindside flanker, and unlike Kirifi at openside, the depth at No. 6 is looking a little fragile in New Zealand as it stands.

Samipeni Finau is the lone specialist blindside flanker showing All Blacks-worthy form in 2024, as Ethan Blackadder struggles with yet more injuries and both the Highlanders (Sean Withy) and Hurricanes’ (Brad Shields) starting options are on either side of their prime.

Segner’s Blues teammate Akira Ioane has been impressive in 2024, finding his feet in a more traditional blindside role and keeping the young gun Tasman product at bay.

Segner’s faced some injury troubles this season but has also got the hungry Adrian Choat to contend with for minutes off the bench. Both players are hard workers around the field and although Segner recently opted to extend his time with the Blues, being four years Choat’s younger, the time should come soon enough that he finds an opportunity to start at the Super Rugby level.

Salesi Rayasi

A man with buckets of talent and silky finesse to match, Rayasi has been providing impact off the bench for the Hurricanes in 2024 as coach Clark Laidlaw has backed Kini Naholo and Josh Moorby to start on the wings.

The former All Blacks Sevens star stands at 1.94m and 105kg, offering renowned one-on-one skills and the ability to get an offload away through any number of tacklers. Rayasi is a walking draw-and-pass threat who frequently finishes near the top of Super Rugby’s season stats lists for offloads.

Rayasi has recently made it known he’s gunning for a Flying Fijians call-up, and has made himself available for selection previously for the national team. The 27-year-old signed a one-year contract extension with the Wellington club for 2024, so may look to find more playing opportunities elsewhere moving forward.

That being said, Josh Moorby has been linked with a move to French outfit Montpellier ahead of next season, with Midi Olympique even reporting Moorby has put pen to paper on a deal.

This could open the door for Rayasi to re-enter the starting unit, although don’t count out youngster Harry Godfrey. Regardless, Rayasi is more than capable of terrorising Super Rugby defences and would be well within his rights to seek out a starting gig outside of the nation’s capital.

Harry Plummer

Since Stephen Perofeta’s round-six injury, Plummer has stepped into the No. 10 jersey and further proven himself to be an astute game manager with a boot and brain to steer a winning Super Rugby side around the park.

The team have gone undefeated with the 25-year-old in the driver’s seat, and the absence of All Black Perofeta has taken no pep out of the team’s step.

Plummer has emerged as a real asset to New Zealand Rugby, given the lack of experienced depth at the first five-eighth position. Despite this, Plummer is likely to enter the 2025 campaign as the Blues’ third choice No. 10 behind both Perofeta and the returning Beauden Barrett.

While he can slip into second five-eighth seamlessly, there’s an argument to be made that New Zealand Rugby may need him to get minutes at 10 to fortify the position after the departure of Richie Mo’unga.

Regardless, Plummer is a starting calibre talent and deserves a shot at a No. 10 jersey.

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Comments

4 Comments
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Nikola 27 days ago

To be fair, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens’ potential to be an All Black is just about the same as during his time with the Blues. The number of back-three candidates for the ABs is as big as ever.

D
David 29 days ago

Every Super team has outstanding loose forwards so shifting might mean more bench sitting? Plummer has been waiting his chance and may have the edge over Perofeta now and should be of interest to the ABs. Rayasi makes the odd error that detracts from his potential. Needs week in, week out play like most players.
Tough to crack most Super teams starting lineups.

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Flankly 16 hours ago
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